Ottawa family returns home after year-long, globetrotting bike trip

When Anna Sierra and Jasper Heffernan-Wilker are asked by their classmates how they spent their summer, they may need a bit more time than normal to share their adventures.

'I was pretty excited, but it also seemed kind of crazy'

From left to right, 10-year-old Jasper Hefferman-Wilker, 13-year-old Anna Sierra Hefferman-Wilker, and their mother Kathleen Wilker pose with their bicycles on a mountain road in Cuba. The family recently returned from a year-long bike trip that spanned seven countries. (Derek Hefferman)

When Anna Sierra and Jasper Heffernan-Wilker are asked by their classmates how they spent their summer, they may need a bit more time than normal to share their adventures.

That's because the pair of Ottawa siblings recently returned from criss-crossing the globe with their parents on a year-long, 12,800-kilometre cycling trip.

"We had been planning for a few years to take a year off. But we didn't know what we were going to do," their mother, Kathleen Wilker, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"It wasn't until two summers ago, when we did a bike trip between Cornwall and Toronto — and it was fantastic for everybody in the family — that we knew we wanted to do a bike trip for the year off."

The Hefferman-Wilker family pauses for a photo near Juno Beach. (Biking With Kids Adventure)

Spain, Belgium, Cuba, and beyond

The family ended up visiting seven countries, including Cuba, Belgium, Spain and Colombia. They camped most of the way, and documented their trip online on their appropriately titled blog, Biking With Kids Adventure.

"I was pretty excited [to go on the trip], but it also seemed kind of crazy," 13-year-old Anna Sierra said.

Wilker said her and her husband Derek's plan were to have their children home-schooled — or trail-schooled, perhaps — in a "formal" manner along the trip. But as they travelled they learned Anna Sierra and Jasper were "learning so much along the road," that they modified those plans.

"Visiting Vimy Ridge in France — that was quite moving for everybody. With Derek as a history teacher they had a strong background already," Wilker said.

"And then really interesting things happened. We met an Australian family, for example. They were visiting memorial sites that were important to them, but they were completely different ... so then we had a chance to talk about who writes history, and why, and what's important to different people."

The family also quickly learned they didn't need to bring toys with them: by the end of long days of cycling, Anna Sierra and Jasper were content with playing cards or curling up with a good book.

"We've learned a lot of geography, going through mountains and deserts and by the oceans," said Anna Sierra. 

For Derek Heffernan, the big takeaway from the year-long trip was the realization that all the stuff they had back home really, in the end, wasn't necessary.

"We lived with so little," he said. "We lived with what we could carry on our bikes."